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EP160: Kallakak’s Cousins

(Updated 5/30: Corrected misspelled name in the title. Sorry, Cat.)

By Cat Rambo.
Read by Stephen Eley.

First appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, March 2008.

“Sometimes we don’t realize that what we want isn’t good for us,” the man said, speaking for the first time. He stared intently at Kallakak.

“Dominance rituals do not work well on me,” Kallakak said, roughening his voice to rudeness. “I will see you in five days in the court.” He decided not to burn his bridges too far. “I will tally up the cost of my goods by then and will have a definite figure.” Let them think him acquiescent while he tried to find another way to save his shop. He stepped into the lift, but they did not follow him, simply watched as the doors slid closed and he was carried away.

Making his way back to his quarters, he saw three figures standing before it. He paused, wondering if the Jellidoos had decided to lean on him further. The trio turned in unison to face him, and he recognized them with a sinking heart. The cousins.

Rated G. Contains shady commerce and dim relations.

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Referenced Sites:

Wiscon 2008

The Surgeon’s Tale and Other Stories by Cat Rambo & Jeff Vandermeer

Comments (25)

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  1. Hannes Engelbrecht says:

    What a fun story!

    I really appreciated Kalakkak’s Vulcan-like stiff-upper-lip-ness in his attempts throughout the story. It was humorous to follow him trying to catch multiple curveballs being thrown at him by his situation.
    I appreciated it, because Kalakkak is like me, apart from the pair of mid-hands and sheathed claws, of course.

    The cousins reminded me a lot of some of the old Donald Duck comics, with his nephews Huey, Dewey and Lewie frustrating Donald’s attempts at a peaceful existence, not out of malice, but due to their own misadventures.

    Thanks for making my week once again, Steve!

  2. Howie Feltersnatch says:

    I agree with Engel–I kept thinking of H, D, & L too. A fun, light story.

  3. Dayna says:

    Great story to listen to while spending the beginning of the weekend doing mind-numbingly boring yard work. I find myself wanting to more of this poor Kallakak’s physiology even though it apparently involves a shoddy urinary tract.

    I wonder if you’ve got a typo in the title. Mrs. Rambo’s website has it as “Kallakak’s Cousins” with two Ls and only one middle K. You’ve got it right in the excerpt though!

  4. Yay! A fun story!

    I like thought provoking emotional stories a lot, but sometimes it is just nice to have some literary popcorn, and that is what this was. I’m not left with tears in my eyes, or heavy thoughts in my head (or heart), just general cheeriness. Thank you!

    One note: I was picturing Larry, Moe, and Curly (sans violence) more than Larry, Darryl and, Darryl. Their incompetence made me think of 3 Stooges bits like making a cake with a potholder in it.

  5. Sam says:

    Jellidoo One: “Rah Rhost?!”
    Jellidoo Two: “Like, Zoiks!!”

    (They quake for a moment, then disappear in a puff of dust and a high-pitch cartoon noise and footfalls)

  6. SFEley says:

    D’oh! You’re right, Dayna. Title spelling corrected, and thank you.

  7. Sushma says:

    That was simply delightful! reminded me of the travails of the Armenian tailor in my immigrant neighborhood that is going through gentrification as a lot of the old shops become trendy cafes. My only criticism: the Jellydoos were foiled rather easily.

  8. Azure says:

    It was nice, but a little too light and fluffy for my taste.

  9. Alissa says:

    I loved this story. It was super cute and I think it would make a nice series.

  10. scatterbrain says:

    Great, simple story.

  11. thegreattim says:

    Once again, great story, Steve. This is my first comment here, since finding you guys about 5 months ago and binging on Escape Pod for probably 3 hours+ a day. It’s been an amazing journey. It’s really cool to see how the show has evolved over the years, although it reaaaallly sucks having to wait with the masses every week now for a new story! :-)

    My favorite story is still Pratt’s “Impossible Dreams”. It’s the only cast I’ve listened to more than twice, probably six or seven times. Makes me all shivery inside. Not that I love movies all that much, but just the possibilty of that world! Wow. Ooh, and anything (those two stories, anyway) narrated by that Rutherford(?) guy, man, he makes my sides split.

    My least favorite is much more hard to pin down, probably something along the lines of that Edward Bear story that makes me want to go all stabby on something (usually myself!). But really, I’m not complaining, this show has provided me with over 100 hours of quality entertainment. Steve, way to go… we owe you big.

    Last thought… I’ve tried to be patient and wait, but remember that last metacast about three months ago? Some big stuff was going down and you had talked about how you need to re-prioritize things (I really hope your life is going better now, this request is not as important as those things) but where, or where, did all the flash fiction go? I remeber you saying how EP was goign to be buying all this wonderful FF from the contest and elsewhere and we’ve heard nary a word since! I miss all the added little mid-week stuff. Please throw some our way! And more reviews would be cool also. Anything to tide us between Thursdays, anyway.

    Well again, Steve & Co., great job, great stories, great everything. I hope to be gettting my weekly SF audio fix here for years to come.

  12. BadMonkey says:

    P’wned by the story. I had thought the fourth ticket (only remaining return ticket) was going to part of the ending. Some how, the three cousins would end up with the shop and Kallakak would used that ticket. I was so smug with myself. Duh!

    Its good to have a story make you smile.

    Fun story, we need stories like this one once in awhile. Just like we need stories like “Bright Red Star”, too.

  13. V says:

    Nice to have a calmer, happier piece than has been on in a while.

    The extra ticket bit feels like a loose string, but I imagine if this turned into a fix-up that would mend it…and I didn’t really mind.

    The story’s greatest strength was the worldbuilding. I wonder if it was influenced by DS9 . . . I know that it played out on the Promenade in my mind, with a shade of Julian (if he had been a bit more worldly-wise) in the pharmacist. How his ears prevented him from dissembling got me thinking of Quark, especially since Ferengi are known for how often they lie!

    The only striking weakness (another loose string) was Kallakak’s unexplained infection, although I suppose that was supposed to give the reader (or listener) a sense of his age.

    Nice tidy ending, I will say that. Consistent tone. Definitely funny. Likeable characters.

    Yeah, I saw Huey Dewey and Louie as well . . . these characters were definitely kids, not adults.

  14. Daniel Cotton says:

    Fun story. It’s interesting to me how authors dream up species with these weird social quirks. At first I think they have an idea for something particular that will fit into a specific story. Then it gets interesting. The second story line, the one they didn’t write the quirk specifically for, is like really discovering that species.

    It seemed a little more B5 than DS9 to me. Which is good ’cause I liked B5.

    And I agree with thegreattim: more flash fiction please.

  15. Eric says:

    Will no one stand up for the rights of the Jellydu?

    Is there not a single, cut rate, back alley exorcist on the whole station?

    :Eric

  16. […] Cat Rambo’s “Kallakak’s Cousins” at Escape Pod! […]

  17. Jenny M says:

    Useful to know this story was bought because it would make a good show anecdote and because the author has a great name. It was difficult to find anything else to recommend it. When you describe a story as ‘light’, Steve, this should mean that it contains qualities such as humour, a cracking pace, snappy dialogue – not simply be a euphemism for ‘flat’.

    Not only was there no need for this to be a science fiction story – any trader in today’s world or the past, threatened with an unwanted buy-out, would have sufficed – it was clear that the cutesy aliens here were an unconvincing distraction for the chronic lack of plot and characterisation. The story completely lacked tension or surprise or pace. So uneventful was it that when the ending’s set-up was dropped into the narrative early on – the Jellidoos’ fear of ghosts – the reader, so starved of interest, saw the end coming before it had even landed with a resounding thump at the end of the straight-ahead plot-line.

    So flat were the characters that the author had to resort to Tell not Show, e.g. telling us that the main character is a master of understatement (or some such), or that the robot has a ‘funny sense of humour’ (which in itself is not the greatest choice of another word for ‘strange’ in this context), then providing absolutely no examples of either in the story.

    To sum up: what was this story actually about, that justifies it taking up a half hour or so of anyone’s time? That a trader is making a fairly good living selling stuff and someone else wants to take over his patch? So what? Why should I care about him? There’s nothing attractive or noble or sympathetic about him at all. He’s not trading for any reason other than to make a living – and there’s nothing wrong with that in the real world. But then, I could have spent half and hour chatting to the guy who runs my corner shop instead. He’s probably got some irritating cousins, too. And there’s probably some bigger fish that wants to buy his lease. And he could well be fighting off a cold, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz …

  18. Janice in GA says:

    I agree with jenny M. This was a second-rate comedy story dressed in sf trappings. To my mind, it was the worst story I’ve heard on Escape Pod. Predictable and chock-full of boring.

  19. Storman_Norm says:

    Sorry, it seems I’m in the minority with Janice and Jenny, but I totally didn’t get it. Very little SF elements I can see here. A mulit-armed guy owning a store? I had trouble identifying with any characters here and the words just gently washed over me like a dry mist, leaving no memory at all. Forgettable, boring, uninspired.

  20. Scott says:

    I enjoyed the story and was thinking more Moe, Larry and Curly myself. L,D, and D is probably more appropos though as they were all cut from roughly the same cloth. For me it was more about the family elements. We all have family that we don’t have much use for and so I enjoyed watching that dynamic. Was it a little fluffy? Sure, but not all stories need to be dark and brrody. Your submission guidelines specify “fun” and this was.

  21. tim callender (babylonpodcast) says:

    Count me in the “I enjoyed it” camp. Maybe not the freshest, most innovative story ever on EP. But I smiled, thinking how things worked out despite poor Kallakak’s attempts to control the situation. Having taken care of a few overstuffed toilets in my parenting career, I can fully appreciate Kallakak’s predicament.

  22. Reading the dissenting opinions, I can’t argue with them. The ending was pretty flat and sudden, and none of the characters were developed very well. I didn’t realize the “tell not show” thing until it was mentioned, but now that I see it, I can’t unsee it.

    Fortunately, I’m a sucker for even a hint of narrative, so I didn’t mind any of that while I was listening. Except the flat ending part.

    No worries, it was free!

  23. Bookman 12pt says:

    What a well-crafted story. I heard this a few weeks ago and was still thinking about it so I decided to comment.

    The subtle hint about the Phobia of ghosts did not spoil the ending as alot of hints do.

  24. Rob R. says:

    I really enjoyed this story. Sure, I saw the “ghost” angle coming a mile away… but I enjoyed trying to work out how the other aspects of the story, such as Kallakak’s inability to lie and the shifting nature of the station’s government, would factor into the ending. I wasn’t bowled over, but I wasn’t disappointed, either.

    But I wonder what the story would have been like if it wasn’t obvious that the Jellydoos were nasty, selfish people. A situation in which two sets of likable characters each have a claim to a particular space would be uncomfortably close to real-life events… and might have made for a very challenging and interesting story.

  25. […] “Kallakak’s Cousins” by Cat Rambo (read by Stephen Eley), Kallakak is a shopkeeper threatened with a hostile […]